November 12, 2019

There Goes My Childhood

September 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Derek Jeter played in his final game Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park. Realistically, this weekend’s series in Boston acted more as a denouement following the climax of Jeter’s farewell tour last Thursday night in the Bronx. For those of you who have had no access to any form of media over the last five days, in front of a sold out crowd, in an atmosphere charged with the electricity of a playoff game, and in the most improbable series of events, Jeter’s final magical swing in the Bronx produced a walk-off single. I was there. It was awesome.

About five years ago, I was lucky to be in the building when Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig to become the all-time Yankees hits leader. I wrote about all that Jeter had meant to me then. And it’s funny. Five years later, every one of those ideas and emotions holds true again.

10419053_10152775444969254_5636469592953818899_nBefore going further, I have to say that Derek Jeter never was my favorite player. I’m a lefty and a pitcher. My affinities traveled from Don Mattingly to Paul O’Neill to Andy Pettitte. I could see myself more in lefty hitters who constantly tinkered with their swings and pitchers who figured out how to grind through a start without their best stuff than I could in a lithe shortstop with an inside-out swing. But Mattingly retired in ’95. O’Neill followed in 2001. Pettitte left the Yankees and came back. Throughout it all, Jeter remained a constant.

For me, these last few images of Jeter riding off into the sunset have been a profound marker of time. Today, I’m thirty-one years old. I’m a school administrator. I’m pursuing a doctoral degree. And, oh yeah, I’m the father of twin nineteen-month-old girls. Baseball doesn’t have the same prominence in my life it once did.

Just like food, I can’t digest baseball the way I used to. While they used to be commonplace, I can’t imagine what eating a pound of chicken wings or watching a baseball game that ends sometime around 1am would do to me the following day. I guess it’s natural to drift away from sports. A person’s priorities and schedule changes, and all of a sudden, it doesn’t fit into your life to watch a playoff game between two west coast teams that begins at 10pm eastern.

In April, I’ll attend my ten-year college reunion. That means it’s been fourteen years since I first left my parents’ house. Ten years since I officially moved out. Ten years removed from sitting in the basement flanked by my father and sister, cracking jokes about the size of Jorge Posada’s neck.

At the end of the first season of the Sopranos, Tony and his family get caught in a torrential downpour and wind up stranded in a local restaurant owned by a childhood friend. Tony looks at his drenched family, eating homemade pasta by candlelight, and tells them to remember moments like this—the good moments. Sitting in my parents’ basement, joking with my sister, talking baseball history with my dad, listening to Bob Sheppard announce, “Number 2. Derek Jeter. Number 2.” Those were good moments.

And that brings me back to Jeter. Over the past few years, Derek Jeter has been my baseball constant. I knew that I could turn on YES and Jeter would be there. I could watch him man shortstop in the Bronx and instantly be transported back in time. Seeing Jeter scoop up a grounder or dig into the box, unconsciously calling for time with his right arm then nodding to the pitcher, linked me directly to my parents’ basement. All of a sudden, I wasn’t half watching a baseball game while picking up toy princesses from the floor of my living room, I was fourteen years old, living and dying with every pitch. I was in my bedroom furiously doing homework and listening to John Sterling on the radio. I was a kid again.

Next year, someone else will play shortstop for the New York Yankees. I’ll still have the images of Jeter lunging to his backhand, gracefully pirouetting into the air, and throwing a strike to first base while his momentum carries him into leftfield. But he won’t be there. He’ll be on some golf course in Tampa. And he’ll take my link to my childhood to that golf course with him. I know that as I get older, no ballplayer will ever have that kind of significance for me again.

Yet, somewhere out there, there’s another lefty pitcher figuring out how to grind out a start when he doesn’t have his best stuff. 10245440_10152774674024254_5810526012728286502_nThere’s another first baseman tinkering with his swing. And there’s even another shortstop working on his ability to take the ball the other way. And in the end, that’s what we all love about baseball. It’s not just a moment in time; it’s timeless. It’s both at once of a generation and generational. And now, with Jeter moving on, a part of me looks to pass it to the next generation.

As a father, I hope my daughters grow to love something like I love baseball. I hope within that thing, they find someone like Derek Jeter. I hope as they get older, they can turn on the TV and be transported back to a shared moment in time. Turn on the radio and imagine listening to the same program while sitting shotgun on a nighttime drive around a reservoir.

I hope they find something to accompany them on their journey through adolescence to adulthood.

Something that always brings them home.

Derek Sanderson Jeter, thanks for being that something for me.

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